Penguins still shy of their potential

The Youngstown State football team sports a 6-1 record and yet it doesn't seem like the Penguins have played up to their potential.
This team reminds us a little of the 1997 national championship squad that went 13-2. Like that one, this team finds a way to win, but never really looks good in doing so.
On Saturday, Youngstown State beat a deceptive Illinois State squad by 14 points. The Redbirds are 0-7, but most Gateway Conference observers believe Illinois State to be a dangerous team. They still have a lot of players from the 1999 team that finished 11-3 and made the semifinals of the I-AA playoffs.
The Penguins' passing game looked better than it has, but that was expected, because Illinois State's pass defense has been poor all season.
Little rushing: For three quarters the YSU running game was nearly non-existent. It wasn't until the fourth quarter when junior quarterback Colby Street came off the bench and sparked the running game. He played just 11 minutes yet led the team in rushing with 65 yards.
Starting quarterback Jeff Ryan left the game after taking a hard hit on a keeper and was a little dazed.
"Jeff got his bell rung pretty good on the play," said Youngstown State coach Jon Heacock. "He could have gone back in, but Colby was doing pretty well himself in there so we kept Jeff out."
Street's performance showed his hard work in practice does pay off, and that the offense doesn't lose anything with him in there.
Running style: Saturday, he caught the Redbirds off guard with his strong running style.
"We prepared all week for Ryan and Street's a different type of quarterback," said Illinois State coach Denver Johnson. "He probably runs that belly-option play better than Ryan. It's tough to prepare for two quarterbacks and we weren't ready for him."
"Colby just went in and did what he does everyday in practice," Heacock said. "We've always had all the confidence in the world in his play."
Need help: The Penguins still need a fix for their kickoff coverage team. The Penguins were kicking the ball high and short to avoid the big runback, but the Redbirds were returning them back out to the 40 or better.
"We've still got some work to do there," said Heacock. "I'm not sure if it is who we have in there or what routes they are taking. We'll have to look closely at the films this week."
Junior Gerald Burley has assumed the role of the Penguins' "big play" man this year.
His 77-yard punt return and 33-yard touchdown reception were two of the biggest plays of the game for the Penguins. He's caught three of the five touchdown passes the team has thrown this season and his 13 catches leads the team. He's averaging nearly 20 yards per reception.
Kicking game: Junior punter Kosta Karapetsas had a decent game, averaging 38 yards on four attempts with a long of 42 yards.
"He's worked hard in practice and it showed out there," said Heacock.
Sophomore placekicker Jake Stewart improved to 5-for-5 in field goals this year and would have been 6-for-6 if his third period kick wasn't taken away when the Penguins accepted a penalty and took the points off the board for a first down, then fumbled the ball away on the next play.
Heacock admitted that he made some bad decisions in Saturday's game, but then he's still learning too since this is his first season calling all the shots for the Penguins.
This week Youngstown State will face one of its biggest tests of the season when Western Kentucky (5-2, 3-1 Gateway) invades Stambaugh.
"At this point in the season every game is like a playoff game for us," said Heacock.
XPete Mollica covers YSU football for The Vindicator. Write him at